Skip navigation

Reading Cat Body Language

Share article on Facebook Share article on Pinterest Share article on Twitter (opens new window)
orange tabby cat having their chin scratched

As a cat parent, you may be eager to have cat body language explained. Cats can express their emotions through subtle changes in their ears, tail, eyes, and body posture. Even cat facial expressions can give pet parents a look at how their cat feels. By learning more about how your pet expresses themselves, it may be easier to gauge when it’s okay to pick them up, when they want to be left alone, or even when they don’t feel their best.

What Does My Cat’s Body Language Mean?

Many people may think that reading a cat’s mood isn’t the easiest task. However, there are many benefits to learning the intricacies of feline body language. Most importantly, you’ll be able to understand your pal’s emotions—whether they are happy, playful, anxious, angry, or any mood in between.

By better understanding how your cat feels, you can also more accurately recognize when a particular situation is making them anxious. In this instance, you can remove the item causing stress and help calm your cat down.

Learning more about your cat’s body language can help you catch any illnesses earlier on, which means receiving faster treatment. Not to mention, understanding your best pal’s body language practically makes you a cat whisperer—which is undeniably a fun title to have.

Cat Body Language: The Tail

One of the most expressive parts of a cat is their tail. No matter the tail’s length, coat type, and natural resting position, each cat’s tail can reveal quite a bit about how a cat is feeling—no doubt the tail body language for an American Bobtail is unique.

For instance, whenever you notice your feline friend moving their tail back and forth, take notice of the speed. A slow, evenly paced back and forth often indicates that they are focused on something, such as a toy on the floor or a bird out the window. If their tail is flicking or moving in a swifter motion, this could signify that your cat is feeling agitated.

The posture of a cat’s tail can also provide insight into how they are feeling. Often when a cat is approaching their human, their tail will be upright, with a slight curve at the end. This signals that your cat is happy. It also shows that they view the person they approach as a friend. If you notice a cat’s tail in a much lower position or even tucked under their body, this typically shows that they do not feel comfortable with the situation.

When your cat interacts with people, including yourself, or other animals, pay attention to what their tail does. Sometimes when our feline friends have a strong relationship with a person or animal, they will curve or wrap their tails around them.

On occasion, you may be around a cat whose tail is poofy. They can appear almost cartoonish, or they will resemble the Halloween cat pose of a puffy tail and arched back. Though this can sometimes occur when they are playing, it’s often brought on because your cat feels upset, either through anger or being scared.

Cat Body Language: Ear Positions

A cat’s ears are arguably just as expressive as their tail. Though a breed’s ear shape and structure will differ, and thus so will how they use their ears to express themselves (i.e., Bengal’s ears versus a Scottish Fold’s ears), there is still much to learn about the basic body language of cat’s ears.

Firstly, throughout the day, your cat’s ears will be moving and rotating at nearly 180 degrees. Cats use this flexibility to distinguish sounds and where they are coming from. You may notice when your cat is playing and practicing their hunting techniques, their ears may move around quickly or appear to be twitching.

When your cat is just hanging out, their ears will be in a resting position, sometimes also referred to as a neutral position. Their ears will be facing mainly forward. This indicates that your cat is content and happy. In a similar position, some cats will bring their ears completely forward and have them straight up—this is them being alert. Whether something has caught their attention and they are trying to listen, or they are playing, and their ears are in a “pre-pounce” position, this angle for ears doesn’t denote anything negative.

If you spend time around cats, there’s no doubt you’ve seen ones whose ears are lower and to the side, possibly facing outwards. This can signal that the cat is uncomfortable in their current environment and with the people or animals in their company. Other emotions tied into this body language include anxiety and fear, which could lead to aggression if the cat is not given the space they need.

In some instances, whenever a cat’s ears go low and to the side, this could instead mean that they are just not feeling well. To help distinguish whether your cat is sick or just momentarily stressed, you can look at the rest of their body language and any other unusual signs they might be displaying.

Cat’s ears can also lay back and flat on their head. This is your cat communicating that they want immediate space, and it’s best for you to step back and give them some alone time. Showing this type of ear body language can be the first sign that a cat may be aggressive if you approach them.

Cat Body Language: Happy

To help you determine if your cat is happy, you can observe multiple body language points and look at the ‘big picture.’ Ears forward, a calm expression on their face, mellow eyes, and a high tail can all be read as a happy feline. Of course, every cat is unique in how they express themselves. If your best pal is vocal, you may notice that they let out little chirps, purrs, or a happy meow when they are in a good mood.

Nervous Cat Body Language

A cat that is feeling nervous, anxious, or stressed will appear much tenser. Their tail may be flicking back and forth, their ears may be out sideways or back against their head, and their eyes may have an intense look, darting around the room. When a cat is nervous, you may notice them staying in one area, refusing to socialize. Some cats may let out a hiss or low growl or swat at anyone who approaches them.

black and white cat wearing a pink dress

Cat Body Language: Postures

When observing your cat’s body language, keep an eye on their poses. For instance, the well-known Halloween cat look of a puffed tail and extremely arched back can indicate that your cat is stressed or unsure of a situation. However, some cats strike this pose whenever they are playing as well.

In some instances, your cat may tuck all their paws under themselves and tightly wrap their tail around their body. This can sometimes indicate that they are not comfortable in their current environment.

If your cat is napping or lounging in the sunshine and they are rolled over, exposing their belly, this is a good indication that they feel happy and comfortable in their environment. Other small gestures of a happy feline include kneading the blankets, rubbing up against your arm or leg, and bumping heads.

Do Cats Show Emotion in Their Face?

There are some conflicting opinions on cats and their facial expressions. Some people are under the impression that cats don’t necessarily have a range of facial expressions. Instead, people anthropomorphize a cat’s facial appearance into the mood they believe the cat is currently experiencing. On the other hand, many cat parents are convinced that a cat’s emotions or mood can be determined by observing their face.

In addition to looking at your cat’s ears, you can also observe their eyes. It’s also worth taking note of their mouth and any vocalizations they may be making.

For instance, it’s a normal belief that if a cat is slowly blinking in your general direction, they feel friendly towards you and are okay with you approaching them. If a cat has an intense stare and constricted pupils, this could mean that they feel confident in the situation and may feel that they will win in an altercation. Whenever their pupils are much larger, their attitude may be diminished, and they might feel more unsure.

These acute details may vary from one cat to another, particularly because different cat breeds have varying facial structures (i.e., an Exotic Shorthair versus a Maine Coon). With that in mind, you know your cat best, and after spending an extended amount of time living and interacting with them, it’s not unusual for pet parents to pick up on these intricate changes in their cats.

Along with their unique body language, cats also display many types of behaviors, some of which can seem rather odd. Learn the explanations behind these quirky habits.

One of the best ways to learn more about common cat body language is to observe your cat. Take note of how they act when they are comfortable, relaxed, and ready to take a nap. What does their body language look like when they want to play? Do they become more vocal? You can even pay attention to how your cat acts around different household members versus when guests come over and interact with them. Cats are no doubt mysterious little creatures, but that’s part of the fun of having one around—life is never boring.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.


cream and white tabby cat with a blue tag and green eyes

What Is Intervertebral Disc Disease in Cats?

IVDD in cats is relatively rare, but it’s a serious condition that can cause paralysis.


Dog itching

Common Skin Problems in Dogs

Here’s what you need to know about the top skin problems in dogs, including signs and types of treatments.


poodle looking up

Diabetes in Dogs: Symptoms & Treatment

A diabetic dog can live a normal life with proper care and treatment.